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Everything That Changed For Women In The Last Year: For Better Or For Worse

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By Mahitha Kasireddi:

2013 will be a year to mark for women and girls in India. It was the year when the women’s movement was taken to its highest, though not all part of it was successful. Never was there such a widespread awareness on women’s rights and liberties. This was a phase in the movement that involved men in raising voice against violence against women. A sea of people took to the streets on winter mornings and evenings of December last year. There is something to do with Decembers and gender positioning in our country.

women

Was it just a year ago that the length and breadth of India was absolutely shaken with the ghastly episode of the Delhi gang rape case? The SC has failed us yet again with the verdict on Section 377. December to December we are yet to impress upon the state and the courts, that gender is no parameter to judge an individual, that right to equality is a fractured concept in our country which needs to be fixed, that women and men are not the two boxes to which a society should be limited, that women should be freed from centuries of subjugation and patriarchal imperialism. It is the basic question everywhere. How does a society progress when half of its population is ridiculed, disrespected, abused and killed?

Since December 16th 2012, every writer, journalist, activist and social media enthusiast has referred the incident many a times as a criterion to substantiate that gender equality is a national issue. Those days were very happening; every hour was a moment of grief, anger, disappointment and retaliation. People from all fraternities and walks of life had their say on the issue. Majority expressed their solidarity while some blamed the victim and passed sexist comments, not only Indian leaders but also an American politician. Remember Trent Franks’ unscientific comment on very few chances of pregnancies caused due to rapes? It’s been a year and Smriti Irani is still fighting a case against a misogynistic politician. From all, the most baseless inference was derived by the Khap panchayats. They came up with suggestions of lower the minimum age of marriage for girls. Their claim that marriage is a security couldn’t be more ironical. The most important stakeholders here, the police and their shocking insensitive attitude towards rape victims drew international attention towards the state of affairs in India.

The incident sent us all in to introspect at the very individual level. Various suggestions were made on how women could be protected. The sales of pepper sprays went up and exclusive women cabs service was a popular initiative drawing appreciation from all quarters, not to forget those pink coloured autos meant only for ladies. Lot was written and said about the origins of patriarchy. The analysis of how and when also brought the focus on importance of a girl child. Amartya Sen, an efficient economist pointed out the demographic gap between men and women. He went about calculating the number of missing women, which he called ‘The invisible half’. The number of girl child foetuses killed in the womb, the number of women who died due to dowry harassment, domestic violence, rapes and non-institutional deliveries. Amid such a sorry state of affairs, one village in Rajasthan floated up like a lotus in dirty water. The villagers planted 111 saplings each time a girl was born!

Activists and students addressed the discrimination meted to girls within households and the difference in bringing up a girl and boy. The one act play written by Deepa Ranganathan titled ‘Aath Baj gaye’ is a typical conversation between a liberal modern working woman and her parents. It shows the conventional attitude of parents wanting to control their daughter with all sorts of prescription like how to dress and what time to come back home. The item songs in movies and advertisement industry were majorly on the dock, held for objectifying women and spreading a very superficial dimension about the beauty of a woman. The message was not strong enough as they haven’t stopped making ads where a woman submits to a man due to the fragrance of a perfume. They haven’t stopped making ads which make young adolescent girls feel insecure about their skin colour and figure. Bollywood has set up strict market standards of beauty that it is very difficult to unlearn. The item songs carry provocative lyrics, metaphors most cheap to describe a woman. Who would preach to boys and men that women aren’t just an accumulation of body parts?

Due to the fact that rapes committed by minors were frequently coming into light, importance of teaching young boys to respect girls and women was well stressed upon. After all the discussion on what should be the minimum age of a minor, the SC court has recently maintained its status quo on not trying minors as adults.

Most importantly, the best introspection was that parents, students, professionals and the state had realized how our education system is not helping in instilling values and imparting the right lessons needed. For the first time, open discussions on the need for sex education to be introduced in school curriculum were conducted on both social media and television. The first step to change came when people stood up against victim blaming and condemned judging a women by her choices. The right to choose was best endorsed by every progressive citizen. Big and small campaigns on social media started off such as MARD, STOP THE SHAME, I FEEL I REACT etc. A set of hashtags on twitter trended for quite long like the #NoMoreRape, #StopTheShame etc.

This was one section of the country, but as we know there are many Indians. A politician who was born in the 20th century with 19th century mind-set filed a PIL in the court seeking to ban on pornography. He went about referring to some never done studies that porn was responsible for all crimes against women. A revolution succeeds only when there is a gradual progress not by acting radically. Voices were strong on this issue. Many disagreed to the argument that porn would encourage men to rape. We ask for security and leaders hailing from Bharat sort to cultural and religious bigotry. Several psychologists and sociologists have tried deriving reasons for why men rape? Not to forget the shocking survey by the UN, around Asia-Pacific which confirmed that one in every four men raped at least one woman in their life time. The reasons they admitted were various: to exercise control, to teach a lesson for turning down sexual advancements, for recreation or simply because they could not conquer their instincts

While this was happening in our domestic circles, some very active movements abroad caught attention. It was the same December when the popular women’s rights activist Eve Ensler visited India. She was equally aghast at the gravity of the crime. Eve was herself a victim of repeated abuse since she was eight. She had embarked upon a revolutionary mission to de-sexualize the word ‘vagina’. She scripted ‘The Vagina Monologues’ which was derived from interviewing hundreds of women young and old on what they feel about their vaginas. A country like India where fathers and brothers feel that their respect lies in their daughters’ and sisters’ vagina, bringing about ideological change is almost impossible. She called for a march in various cities round the world on the Valentine’s day called ‘One Billion Rising’. The march was to assert rights on our bodies, on our vaginas, to fight against sexual violence. Have you heard of this question which went around widely, “Who needs Feminism?” This one was the most inclusive campaign which broadened the idea of equality between men and women. The pictures which showed both boys and girls holding placards went viral on the internet. The right perspective of what feminism really means was well discussed through various writings and debates online.

All sorts of promises started coming from the government and political parties. All parties now have ‘women security’ as a top priority in their manifestos. When Justice Verma committee called for an open source law making process for the first time ever in our country, the definition and scope of voyeurism and eve-teasing were re-looked at. A debate on CNN led to conclude that a crime starts with a background building up towards it starting with stalking, eve-teasing, wooing, soliciting, harassing and finally rape. Stalking is definitely a serious offence. We thought we won at least one battle with the SC verdict on prohibiting over the counter sale of chemical in order to curb acid attacks. Unfortunately, it did not prove much of a deterrent with cases still being reported, for example the recent incident in Ludhiana where a woman was attacked on her wedding day. The government did bring the Nirbhaya law to prevail but the incidence of rapes our still on the rise.

What is the purpose for legislation without a conviction to implement them? If there was serious commitment, the Domestic Violence Act would have been allotted the required share in the budget. If there was real will against gender bias, the women’s bill would have been passed with a majority vote. The percentage of women legislators in state assemblies and parliaments is another matter of concern. It is apparently the total lack of conviction to safeguard the right of every woman to stay uninjured that marital rape hasn’t been made punishable by law. The legislators in our country aren’t willing, the courts aren’t conferring rights either, the police are most insensitive, where do the women of this country go? It was rightly said by Taslima Nasreen, “this is no nation for women”. What do you expect from leaders who share a stage with godmen who rape women?

The part that the movement hasn’t covered much is sexual harassment at workplace. We wake up only after the house catches fire. Two cases have proved that women are repeatedly victims of intimidation and exploitation irrespective of the field they work in. One of it dragged our attention towards the women against women phenomenon against which feminists should actively campaign. It means only hypocrisy to brand oneself as a feminist without addressing this mainly. Making sure that female employees get unconditional support from firstly female colleagues and employers is a requisite. On this, I am totally against the mahila bank initiative by the government recently in Mumbai. Making workplace harassment free through providing all women environment does not send the right message across. The purpose to achieve equality is defeated when we project that we are comfortable with our own kind.

It might take another 100 years for people to get over the conventional beliefs on gender. The movement is hence a perpetual process. The fight is a long one and more battles are yet to be fought. The movement is alive in every street where a woman fights her everyday stalker, in every house where boys and girls are brought up equally, in every school where sex education is imparted to both boys and girls, in every gathering where you are not judging a woman for her choices, in every court where justice is delivered at the earliest, in every field where women are welcomed to participate and treated at par with their male counterparts, in every society where a rape victim is accepted and allowed to lead a normal life with all dignity.

You must be to comment.
  1. Arunima Singh

    It was OBR. One Billion Rising! But other than that, an interesting and enlightening article.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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